Vilnius – “The war has touched everyone in Ukraine and so, the topic of loss is unavoidable in every conversation.” 

Olha Savychenko is a professor of psychology from Ukraine’s Zhytomyr Region. Over the past 18 months, she has had to adapt the way she works to better meet the changing needs of clients who are now living with the distress of war. 

“In the consultation room, we fight for people’s resilience and we must win. There is no recipe or magic word to heal their grief and take away the pain. However, we can learn to process pain, to think not only about what one has lost but also what remains after loss,” she said.   

Olha was one of 50 Ukrainian mental health professionals who took part in a two-day workshop in Lithuania organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) last month. Focusing on the provision of counselling to people experiencing traumatic loss and grief in Ukraine as a result of the war, it was the third IOM-facilitated training to take place in Lithuania since February 2022.  

“More than 500 days have passed since the start of the Russian Federation’s full-scale war on Ukraine,” said Eitvydas Bingelis, Head of IOM Lithuania.     

“Ukrainians have lost their family members and friends, and many people have gone missing. To bear this pain, people need emotional support and assistance from professionals who know how to help a person through such grief.”  

Psychologists play an important role not only in the consultation room but also in collaborating with artists and media to help people process their loss and find new meaning. Through IOM’s workshops in Lithuania, the Organization has helped more than 240 Ukrainian mental health professionals adjust their practice to better address the new needs of their clients and provide appropriate counselling.   

"If we don’t find or create meaning in our lives, fragments of frightening unspeakable experience may pop up at unlikely times. But, if we create a story, it helps us piece these fragments together. Then, loss and grief become slightly more bearable,” said Mantas Jersovas, a psychologist at IOM Lithuania who coordinated the training.

The training was tailored to help participants learn more about evidence-based therapeutic techniques and methodology to better address grief and loss. It was also a chance for them to have peer discussions about the different psychological treatment interventions they are using with their clients. 

The IOM Ukraine mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) team also contributed to organizing of the training. The head of the team, Hatem Marzouk, remarked “It is important to support Ukrainian mental health professionals to provide the best possible standards of care to people who are struggling with the psychosocial consequences of the war.”  

According to Olha and her fellow psychologists, training sessions like the ones organized by IOM provide a good opportunity to learn from each other and conceptualize what has been observed in practice, particularly as the demand for their services is increasing. 

"In the last year, I haven’t seen one child in my consultation room who didn't initiate a game related to war – tanks, shelters, or weapons. Many people suffer from sleepless nights, constant worry, responsibility, and anxiety about the future…This war has made us also more resilient, stronger, more conscious. It is difficult for each one of us, but we are now united more than ever.”
Olha Savychenko, professor of psychology from Ukraine’s Zhytomyr Region

IOM’s office in Lithuania and Ukraine partnered to deliver this workshop in Vilnius to allow Ukrainian mental health professionals to learn in a safe and calm environment. It was also a chance to bring in international experts given the current travel restrictions to Ukraine. The workshop was made possible through support from the Government of Republic of Korea. 

This story was written by Bożena Zaborowska-Zdanowicz, a consultant in the IOM Lithuania team